It's entirely too easy to look back on the year in St. Louis music and be as mopey as your garden-variety teenage goth. After all, it's certainly been a trying year for the scene, what with so many venues closing.
But anyone who's read my column knows that I tend to be almost pathologically optimistic. So while there's much to be upset about this year, plenty of good things also happened: New bands formed, existing bands improved, and great shows took place. In the spirit of balance, here's an overview of 2006's happenings and, where appropriate, a positive to counteract the negative. Following that are the year's biggest local trends.
The Bad: Frederick's Music Lounge, the Hi-Pointe, Magee's and Sally T's all of whom supported local music shut their doors during the year. The shockwaves from these closures are still resonating today, as folks struggle to rebuild the community that made those clubs great.
The Balance: Existing venues stepped up in big and small ways to fill the void. Upon comparing my schedule from this year and last year, the Pageant is way busier and besides bringing marquee acts such as Pet Shop Boys and Sigur Rós to town, their local-centric Loop Underground and Ticketmaster New Music Spotlight concerts continue to draw well. Cicero's is booking punk, rock and even the stray hardcore show; the Creepy Crawl remains one of the few places in town where local acts can open for national ones. Even better, unlikely places such as Vintage Vinyl, Mangia and the new Lucas School House didn't hesitate to schedule locals to play.
(Oh, and for the record: Mississippi Nights' booking contact Tim Weber said he had "no comment" to questions about that club's future shows and, well, future.)
The Bad: Nothing new, but yes, St. Louis is still missing out on bigger national tours.
The Balance: See the note about the Pageant above, for starters. Pop's of all places has filled a niche by bringing more (and more diverse) shows to town. Dante's is consistently bringing top DJs and electro legends. And Off Broadway's new owner, Steve Pohlman, continues to slowly make the club a destination for all things rock by booking a cross-section of national acts and local bands.
The Bad: To most outside of the city, St. Louis is still the pop-rap capital of the country, thanks to hits by stalwarts Nelly and Chingy, and newcomer Jibbs. Sure, these songs keep us in the national spotlight, but they don't exactly give us critical respect.
The Balance: The city's underground is still churning out talent. The Hi-Pointe Café lives on elsewhere and even the ending of Blueberry Hill's the Science which continues as a radio show on KDHX on Fridays hasn't stopped living legends such as GZA from coming through town.
Legit labels: F5 Records is harnessing the power of the Internet via a partnership with the digital distribution giant Orchard, who's helping the label's songs become ringtones before they're even released. Upstart Big Muddy earned national distribution on the strength of sassy garage bands the Vultures and Johnny O & the Jerks, bluesy wunderkind Casey Reid and Exene Cervenka's punkabilly pals 7 Shot Screamers.
Indie as she goes: The indie-rock scene in town is booming. Heading up the pack is Gentleman Auction House and So Many Dynamos, the latter of which is now a national critical darling. But up-and-comers Target Market, the Hibernauts (who played a killer, Interpol-meets-Walkmen set a few weeks ago) are earning buzz, while stalwarts such as the Bureau and Ghost in Light improved.
Electric youth: Sure, as long as the Creepy Crawl exists high schoolers will have a chance to play on a real stage even if their talents don't yet match their ambition. But younger and younger bands are churning out some of the most exciting music in town and many aren't yet of age to drink legally. Names to watch: Berlin Whale, Say Panther, Jumbling Towers, the Overtones, Blinded Black, etc.
Steady as she goes: The list of bands in town that did nothing but consistently play and record well far outnumbers flashy upstarts. Waterloo and Magnolia Summer released great albums, as did Finn's Motel and the Monads. Riddle of Steel, the Sex Robots and Bunnygrunt remained must-see live acts. Heck, even Ludo earned a record deal with Island/Def Jam, confirming their status as one of the bigger draws in town.
As always, a caveat: This column just skims the surface of everything that went on here this year. I know I forgot genres and didn't have room for others. That's what 2007 is for.